In June, 2015 my wife, her friend Mary and I embarked on the 1200-km trip from Adelaide in South Australia to Birdsville in South-West Queensland, where I took part in the Big Red Run, a 6-day 250-km stage race, beginning and ending at the iconic Birdsville Pub:
353km in 91hrs57min30sec, without real sleep. Using 21 stops along the way to refuel and rehydrate – it was the hardest 4 ½ days of running. Not because I was not train for the distance, far from it, I was well prepared and had enough km in my legs to last the distance – what was the hardest is to keep focused and the brain awake; that can work for about 70 hours, after that it was a battle and I finished the race in a delirious state. Should have known when I was entering The Delirious WEST 200, right!?
Attempts of this magnitude should ideally be approached with a crew of helpers along the way and if possible by using pacers for final part of the race.
Having a few friends along in a campervan with a nice bed, maybe even with a shower, regular fresh meals prepared and being able to change into fresh T-shirts and shoes sounds like the perfect ultra-race.
It will make a difference 280km into the race, if someone can remind you that you look like shit and need to sleep for an hour, or if a mate can tag along for the next 30km to keep you on the trail (literally).
Being from interstate this was not an option, a few of us had to do it without a crew. I started calling myself (and any runner without a crew) – the screwed runners.
After the 18 weeks of training and preparation I was looking forward to meeting my fellow crewed and screwed runners in Northcliffe, WA. After a pleasant 5 hours flight to Perth I was picked up by Julia (from Perth) and Nat (Gold Coast) and together we drove down south to the start in Northcliffe.
A very small place with a pub, petrol station, camping ground and school along the famous Bibbulmun Track, a track of over 1,000km from Perth to Albany; of which we will race the final 350 km.
After checking in at the hotel, I found some fellow screwed runners from the Czech Republic at the bar getting into those Aussie beers already, my guess was that hey were experienced screwed runners, simply trying to somehow forget what was ahead of us all.
After gear check, final preps and dinner at the pub we all went to bed early (except the Czech’s) for a good night sleep.
Start was at a decent time of 7am on Wednesday and the 70 odd runners took the first day (90km) to get used the heat, trail, gear and the runners around us. I can’t recall where and when I started running with Nat from Gold Coast but I believe we ran into the first night together.
Nat has done a 200miler race before (on a 25km loop!), so she had some experience of what is laying ahead of us (she told me that a friend will be pacing her in the last stage of race and her partner will be crewing from Friday evening onwards), so Nat will transition from screwed to crewed.
There is not much to tell when you been running almost 100km in the first day with the knowledge that there is 2,5x more of this to come.
I recall that I finished around lunch-time on Thursday at the first official Sleep Station in Walpole (140km). What was unique about that check-point was the fact that it was a motel – so I had a shower and change of gear and rested for about 60 minutes as the mid-day heat made Nat turn around (she was about 30 minutes ahead of me at that time) and after a rest we took off together towards Peaceful Bay (2nd Sleep Stop at 204km)
Along the way we passed places of Giant Tingle Trees and had dinner at a Tree Top Walk station before we continued deep into the night towards Conspicuous Beach, where exhausted as were, we decided to take-up the offer of the check-point couple and laid down for 2 hours in their tent…with my legs hurting and twitching I did not get much real sleep and at 3:30am we both decided to move on towards Peaceful Bay.
Nat decided to continue straight away however I needed to change my gear and shoes here so after about 30 minutes of rest I followed her. I did not expect to catch up so soon again with Nat however she saw me on the tracker moving again and decided to wait at the edge of a river where we had to get into a Kayak and cross Irwin Inlet.
The next 30 km are a bit of a blur however I recall Nat’s partner joining us at Parry Beach, where we had a rest and dinner before heading out into the sunset along a 8km long beach towards Monkey Rock check-point. We are still over 100km from the finish and running into the third night of the race.
Monkey Rocks had some reputation of being hard to navigate and one should avoid at night. Well, too late for that – we arrived in middle of night at check-point without too much problems navigation wise. The rock formation in some places look like giant eggs or crashed alien space ships – with the limited lights we had available it certainly looked spooky.
It’s needless to say that at this stage of the run we relay on café and No-Doz to keep awake and going. Unfortunately for Nat (who does not respond well to No-Doz) she asked for amn extra strong café at the check-point and about an hour into our next stage she got elevated heart rate and started to feel sick. At this stage of the run we were joined by Sean from San Diego and together we tried for a while to convince Nat that she will get better and should stay with us moving forward, she was determined to return to the aid-station which could have put all of us at risk of missing the cut-off at the next check-point.
After talking to medic over the phone we agreed to leave Nat where she was (as she insisted on staying and asked us to move on). I left her with all my warm clothing to stay in the woods and together with Sean I kept going toward Denmark River station from where the doctor would start hiking towards Nat. Sure enough half-way down Monkey Rock mountains we ran into the Doc, who assured us all will be fine.
Sean and I kept going and arrived eventually at Denmark River just before 4am in the morning. From here all runners had to take a boat over the inlet or at night we were offered a car ride to the other side. Departure was every hour on the dot. Sean did not stop and kept going straight away. (BTW he was a screwed runner too).
I decided to change clothes, eat and take the 5am car – I did not want to take the boat and risk to get wet feet at low tide after I just had put on brand new pair of socks.
Now here at Denmark it would have been good to have someone telling me to stay and sleep for a couple of hours instead of keep going….I was straight running into being screwed big time very soon.
BTW, Nat and the Doc walked all the way out to Denmark and Nat slept for a few hours and eventually caught up and over took me with her pacer about 20km before finish, ending the race about 2 hours earlier than me.
Anyway, my car driver was also screwed because he needed three attempts to find the spot where he had to let us out (we all were very tired by then). Finally we found the wharf and off we went – I was quickly on my own as the other two runners in my car were fresh from a few hours sleep and disappeared in the distance.
It is now Saturday morning – 3 full days and 3 full nights into the race and sleep deprivation is just about to kick in. Distance to go = 84km, time on hand = 34 hours, so plenty of time to finish.
So here I am waddling along the water edge on my left, watching the ducks and the sun raise. Next thing I am still waddling along and watching the ducks but they are all on my right-hand side…WTF. I must have fallen asleep and within two steps turned-round 180 degrees before opening my eyes again. So there I was battling with my brain to stay awake and at same time moving forward to the next check-point 10km away….
I finally managed to reach the check-point at Eden Road for some food and drink….with the daylight back the brain somehow manages to kick in another gear and I was able to move forward quite consistently and fast (for time being)
Around mid-day I experience the next delirious episode – just after leaving Lowlands Beach check-point (they had the best Quiche Loraine west of Adelaide there!) I started climbing these highland like looking area (need to mention here that for about the last 24 hours I had borrowed a walking pole from one of the crew members of another runner, the pole makes moving up and on sand so much easier…
anyway, back to Delirious WEST 200, I vaguely remember having had issue with sand in my shoe and having to stop several times along the way to empty sand out. I also felt really tiered and suddenly at one stage I find myself holding on to a wooden pic-nic table wondering how I got there and looking for my walking pole. I also could not recall which why I came from nor which way to go. A 100 meters away I saw the roof of a shelter (there are every 15-20km shelters and rain water tanks along the trail for the hikers) and I stumbled down towards it – luckily for me a hiker was having a rest there and the first thing he mentioned to me is to put my head under the rain water tap as I look screwed and need to wake up – no shit! The cool water helped and I was able to ask for direction and continued on my quest, less one walking pole.
I made it to the last official sleep station (Cosy Corner) with about 1 hour to sun-set. I decided to keep going (felt good at moment) and trying to reach Mutton Bird Carpark check-point which was after a 10km stretch over a sandy beach with incoming tide. I rather run in daylight on the sand, which is hard enough. I caught up with two runners (Matt (he is doing his second race here and George) and the three of us managed to reach the check-point just at night fall. With ‘only’ 24 km to go and just being 8pm I decided to keep going waving to George and Matt, believing they will catch me soon again.
The next 13km where the weirdest running I ever did – at the start of this leg all was fine. I thought I made steady progress in the dark however soon I was taken over by some runner and his pacer, I had not seen for ages. As I also prefer to run with someone in the dark I decided to hang on to them, which worked for a while but eventually I had to let them go and soon after Nat and her pacer over took me too and I had to let them go by too. I realised I am dead tiered and could not keep up talking and walking….soon again I was on my own surrounded only be the noise of the ocean on my right and the woosh, woosh sound of huge wind turbines on my left and that’s when The Delirious WEST200 lived up to its name – I had the strangest mental experiences from high to low ending with a panic attack thinking I was lost off track, close to cliffs overhanging the ocean and I recall walking back and forward on a track, eventually sitting down, giving up and starting to look for emergency blankets and rain jacket to put on and stay warm. I also found record on my phone of calling the race medic for help and emergency to help me. When on the phone asking for help two lights showed up in the distance and eventually Matt and George found me delirious sitting in the middle of the trail.
Matt gave me a hug and told me to get my act together after all we run the Delirious WEST and from now on I just need to keep up with him…without choice I just did that, but let me tell you the final 15km to the finish where weird and strange to put it mildly. If it was not for Matt’s music choice (Dropkick Murphy’s Do or Die ?!?) and continuous encouraging words, I probably would have taken much longer to finish this race on my own.
Three screwed runners finished the 353km from Northcliffe to Albany in 3days 19hours 57 minutes & 30 seconds. It was Matt’s second Delirious WEST and first for George and myself.
As we arrived at 3am I had to hang around till day-light before I could call Jimmy and Susi (relatives of Denis) who picked me up and kindly offered me their place for a shower and a great feed before putting me on the plane back to Perth and Sydney.
200+ miles race is not a walk in the park for anyone – my recommendation here would be not to wait till you 60, the recovery alone will be much kinder, believe me. Also, of possible, make sure you have a crew and/or pacer. It will take nothing away from your efforts but why ending up screwed if you don’t have to be 😉
I like to say special thank you to Matt, without his help I would have been screwed for sure!
Thanks to George to let me tag along and to Nat and Sean for being running buddies along the way. Most of the scenic photos are courtesy of Nat.